*Warning this episode may be triggering for some and may not be appropriate for those under 18*
If you’ve been sexually abused, know that there is hope.
My guest, Sandy Phillips Kirkham experienced the unimaginable at age 16- sexual abuse from her youth pastor. 27 years later, she started on the path of healing to confront her abuser and restore her broken faith. Although her story is difficult to hear, she offers hope- that there is meaningful life after abuse. She now uses her story as a ministry to help others who've experienced the same. Her newest book, Let Me Pray Upon You: Breaking Free From a Ministers Sexual Assault shares her experience and tackles this subject with the knowledge that God heals. Sandy's interview will give you strength and tools to use if you've ever found yourself in this difficult situation.
Sandy Kirkham and her husband Bill enjoy life with their two grown children, two beautiful granddaughters, and two fairly well-behaved dogs.
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[00:00:00] Alexis Newlin: [00:00:00] guys welcome to another episode of the brave podcast. I'm your host Alexis. And this week is Easter week. At the time. This episode dropping on March 31st. Friday will be good Friday and Sunday, he has risen. And I want to give a moment to just. Thank the Lord for the sacrifice that he made for us.
That we may live in complete and total freedom. This week is amazing week because Jesus. Died for us so we could walk in freedom. I wanted to share that with you guys. So if you're not a believer, even if you are, this is an amazing week. Our Lord and savior, put himself on a cross and died a brutal death so that we may have life.
It just is something I am super thankful for every single day of my life. I get to walk in the freedom of being a child of God. I had to drop that in there for you guys.
Back to the podcast. My guest today is Sandy Kirkham. Sandy has a difficult story; at age 16 she was [00:01:00] sexually abused by her youth pastor and it altered her life for quite a while. It broke her faith, caused her to leave her church. It left her pretty broken until the age of 49 when she decided to go and confront her abuser. The beautiful part about Sandy story is that she used her terrible experience to now reach others and minister to them, and also help those who are going into ministry understand the detrimental effects abuse can have on.
The people that they're pastoring and teaching them how not to do that and how to honor the people that they are serving.
So loved her story. I could not put her book down. For one it's something that I didn't really think could happen. And you don't want to ever think this could happen, right? And just for her to be so open and to share her story. her book is very [00:02:00] difficult to read, but an amazing story of how this horrible thing, how she could take it to now bless others and to help others who have gone through something similar that she has gone through. Loved her story. I just want to give a disclaimer on it before I get started. If you have littles who were in the room. You might want to listen to this with your earbuds in, or if you have experienced something like this in the past, and you feel it may be triggering to you, you may want to skip this interview until another time. All right, guys. Thank you so much for tuning in and without further ado, here is my interview with Sandy Kirkham.
my name's Alexis Newlin and you're listening to the brave podcast. And my guest today is Sandy Phillips Kirkham.
Sandy I'll have you introduce yourself and tell people why you are amazing.
Sandi Phillips Kirkham: [00:02:47] Okay. Hi, I'm Sandy I've written a book about clergy sexual abuse. I had that experience when I was 16 by my youth pastor. I waited 27 years before I actually told anyone about it. And I never told my husband, never told my [00:03:00] friends I'm married with two children and we have a pretty good life, but in the last 10 years or so, I have been an advocate for victims of clergy abuse and have tried to work toward prevention and education.
Alexis Newlin: [00:03:11] Wow. All right. So let's get into your story a bit. So where were you from? Where did all this start happening?
Sandi Phillips Kirkham: [00:03:18] It's a church in Cincinnati, Ohio. I was 16 at the time as a Christian, I had been baptized at age 13 and I was very active in the church. Led youth group meetings. I was president of the youth group. I'd sang in the choir. I taught Sunday school. I think it would be no stretch of the imagination to say that if the church doors were open, I was there and I absolutely loved being in church. I loved it. Just after I turned 16 our church hired a new pastor and within a short period of time, he made sexual advances toward me, which took about a year before he eventually had sex with me at the age of 17.
The abuse lasted for five years until his actions were discovered, and then he was [00:04:00] given a going away party. He was moved to the next church and I was called in by the elders and told them because of my behavior, I was to leave the church and I was absolutely devastated. It was the church was my whole life.
And , I've said that as horrific as the abuse was, having been told that I wasn't fit to worship in the church was even more devastating and harmful to me as well.
Alexis Newlin: [00:04:22] I read your book. When I got it, I didn't stop reading it. I could not put it down. And the whole time I was just so angry, reading your story, just like, is anyone going to intervene?
, I couldn't imagine what you went through at age 16. I don't think. I've ever considered that someone from the church would do that to a youth.
Sandi Phillips Kirkham: [00:04:43] Right. And that's part of the problem that we sometimes don't want to see, or we don't want to believe that, that kind of thing can happen within the church. But it does more often than we probably know, because so oftentimes it is covered up.
Even though my abuse was 27, well more than twenty seven years ago now. [00:05:00] But when I was in the seventies, It's still going on and they're still cover up and instead of firing these pastors or these rabbis or priests, they reluctant resigned and then they can move to the next church or synagogue.
So it's still a problem that exist and victims are still suffering because so many victims like myself won't come forward even years later. And so they're living with this aftermath of the abuse.
Alexis Newlin: [00:05:25] What do you think that causes people not to want to come forward?
Sandi Phillips Kirkham: [00:05:28] Well first of all, for me, I was just so thankful it was over.
I was glad it was done and over. I didn't want to think about it anymore. I just wanted to move on with my life. Then I think too, there's an embarrassment. , we don't want to talk about it. And even though I try to tell victims what happened to them was not their fault, that they should have been able to trust this person and this person took advantage of them. We still, as victims want to feel like there was something we should have done or could have done. We have a lot of felt blame and we have guilt and we have shame. We're also afraid of being judged. It's a secret [00:06:00] that I reveal . How are people going to respond?
So there's a fear factor there. And then finally is probably the most important is our abusers are very good at telling us over and over again, not to tell anyone. And if you do no one's going to believe you. And so even when I finally told my secret to my best friend for the first time in 27 years, I was so afraid because I thought I'm going to get in trouble even at age 49.
I was so afraid because those words never leave you. And so the embarrassment, the fear of the reaction, the fear of being judged and just the idea that I don't want to talk about, I just want to move on. But the problem with that is you can't move on because it's always with you and you're carrying that burden in that secret all the time.
Alexis Newlin: [00:06:45] Yeah. So what caused you to first speak out to your friend? I remember reading your book that you were driving. Can you go into that story a little bit?
Sandi Phillips Kirkham: [00:06:55] It's in the first chapter of my book, I talk about this trigger factor, which trigger [00:07:00] factors just come unexpectedly and you're not prepared. And I've had trigger factors and remembrances of him over the years, but I was able to control them and I just kind of waited till they passed.
But this particular trigger factor I was driving. And I just couldn't control it. I was sobbing. I couldn't breathe. I finally had to pull to the side of the road and it was then that I realized that I wasn't gonna be able to push this one back down. And it was really, I think God's way of saying, "okay, it's time. You need to deal with this."
And not only do you need to deal with it little did I know at that point I would be able to help others in dealing with my own past. That's what started me on this path of healing and being able to get out from under this abusive relationship that I'd had all those years ago. .
Alexis Newlin: [00:07:48] And so this man was he single? Was he married?
Sandi Phillips Kirkham: [00:07:51] He was married with two children. Now interestingly enough, and not surprisingly enough, I was not his first victim. Prior to coming to our [00:08:00] church, there was a young woman in his first church who accused him of sexual inappropriate behavior. My church was aware of that, but they didn't tell the congregation.
There was no information given. Within a short period of time, he was making sexual advances toward me. He then continued this pattern after he left our church. He was removed from the ministry for about a year and a half, and then he was put back in the ministry and he's a minister today.
Alexis Newlin: [00:08:26] Which blows my mind
Sandi Phillips Kirkham: [00:08:27] It should blow your mind.
Alexis Newlin: [00:08:28] That no one has stopped this. Because what's to say, he's not doing it to another person?
Sandi Phillips Kirkham: [00:08:34] Exactly. This behavior, it's not just a mistake. It's not just something, oh, it happened. They're very calculating. Most of these men have a repetitive behavior, so they're probably going to do it again. But even at that, the Bible talks about false profits. And it talks about wolves in sheep's clothing. That's what these men are. They're pretending to care about their sheep when they're devouring one of them and they need to be removed. Just like any [00:09:00] profession, if you cross a boundary or the ethics of your profession, you lose your license or you're removed from your profession.
So it's not necessarily about punishment. All that can be part of it. It's also about safety. We need to be safe. every mother and every father should send their children to church and assume and believe that they're going to be safe there.
Alexis Newlin: [00:09:22] I'm not a mom, but I could not imagine. If your children are interested in church and knowing this happened to you, did this affect you at all when your children wanted to become a part of their church?
Sandi Phillips Kirkham: [00:09:30] It didn't as much as you would think, because I truly believe that I had gotten the only bad Apple in the barrel, and I didn't believe that this could have ever happened to anyone else if this just didn't happen other places.
So I didn't fear them being in church. But I do remember when my daughter turned 16, I looked at her and I thought how young she looked and how it reminded me of how young I was. That was the first time I think I had a moment that wait a minute, I wasn't responsible for what this man did to me, [00:10:00] but I took my children to church.
Church was difficult for me. I had a lot of trigger factors, when in church. It had a lot of reminders of him but I wanted my children to have that experience. So I would go to church and take them to church, but I couldn't engage them in any kind of spiritual discussion. And one of the saddest things for me is the fact that I couldn't have a bedtime prayer with them.
It just, I couldn't do it. I just couldn't do it.
Alexis Newlin: [00:10:24] Yeah, it sounds like this really affected your relationship with God what happened to you.
Sandi Phillips Kirkham: [00:10:29] It did. And I have a chapter in the book called spiritual wounds and many victims. I'm not the only one, many victims will express these same kinds of aftermath. So I know that God didn't cause this to happen, but it sent a disconnect with me and God, and certainly a disconnect with my church.
There were so many reminders of him that were confusing with God and confusing with scripture. You have to understand that the trauma that is caused by abuse that it causes to the brain. [00:11:00] Causes you to think inaccurately; it doesn't allow you to think clearly. So you become confused and you don't know what to think.
So imagine that this man would have sex with me on a Saturday night and then get up in front of the congregation and preach about love and how we should care for one another. You know, it was something I couldn't make sense of. And so that disconnect with God began to happen and it stayed there for 27 years until I was able then to start to heal and get closer to God because I was moving forward in my healing.
Alexis Newlin: [00:11:32] Yeah. And I couldn't imagine like how he was able to justify what he was doing, knowing that it says adultery is a sin, knowing all that. How did he justify these things to you?
Sandi Phillips Kirkham: [00:11:42] Well, I don't think they do .Again if you're a Wolf in sheep's clothing, you're truly not a shepherd.
A shepherd won't have those thoughts. A shepherd would say, I shouldn't be doing this, but a lot of these men are narcissists. So they are very self-centered. They don't think of the consequences and they really don't care about the [00:12:00] consequences to others. So he never really did justify what he did say. And many predators in the church will say this: I'm just like David in the Bible and God uses me in spite of my fault. That was his only justification to all the good that he was doing. Made up for any sexual misconduct or abuse he was committing.
Alexis Newlin: [00:12:21] Wow. And to use scripture and the twists that like that is just exactly.
Sandi Phillips Kirkham: [00:12:25] That's another factor that adds into, , why abuse victims have difficulty with their spiritual life years later.
Alexis Newlin: [00:12:31] Yeah. Cause what's supposed to be there to help you, God's word was used against you.
Sandi Phillips Kirkham: [00:12:36] And so things that you may find comfort in, your listeners find comfort in such as Bible reading and scripture and singing of hymns in church, those are trigger factors for most abuse victims that where the abuse has happened in the church. Think about this. If you have a problem or an issue, you can go to your pastor, you can go to someone in your church for help. Where does a victim of clergy abuse go? We don't [00:13:00] know where to go because the church has been so contaminated for us by the actions of this man. It makes us difficult then to seek help in the church.
Alexis Newlin: [00:13:09] Definitely.
Sandi Phillips Kirkham: [00:13:10] And then really think about it. The church is supposed to be bringing people in not finding ways to turn them away.
Alexis Newlin: [00:13:18] And do you think when this is all going on, did any of your family members suspect anything, any friends? Did you find that out later once you revealed what happened?
Sandi Phillips Kirkham: [00:13:25] yeah, of course, my mother was thrilled I was in the church. I mean, she saw that as a good thing. This was in the seventies. So drugs and free love and sex was, all over the place. Here I was in church, you couldn't find a safer place. So she never, and , I have to point out this man was very, very charismatic.
So everyone in the church loved him. And I mean, everyone. He had dynamic sermons, he was caring. He seemed to be like a good person. So he would have been the last person. Anybody would have suspected. But no, my mother didn't see anything, but I will say after I came forward and told my story, I would have people who were in the church [00:14:00] at the time, say to me, "you know, I remember one time when I thought I saw him take you into the office and that just seemed odd. Or I remember hearing him say this to you. And I thought, why is he telling her that?" So there were certain signs and red flags. But probably not enough for someone to say, wait a minute, he's doing something he shouldn't be doing now. I think today we're a little more in tune so that we would say , we might trust our gut feeling to say, wait a minute he probably shouldn't be doing that. I think there's a little bit more awareness, but again, the church is so capsulated and so insulated that we don't want to see those things in our pastor or our spiritual leaders. . Most pastors and spiritual leaders are faithful to their callings. I want to make that clear. This is not to point paint a broad stroke on all pastors and priests. But the ones that we know about are the ones that we have found to be committing sexual misconduct and abuse, they need to be taken care of. There need to be consequences.
Alexis Newlin: [00:14:56] And so right now, do you know if there's any consequences some church [00:15:00] bodies have, if this happens? Is there like a governing body that can pull their license or take them out?
Sandi Phillips Kirkham: [00:15:06] Well, there isn't like an overall general. Now I think 13 States it is illegal for a pastor or priest or rabbi, any clergy to have any kind of sexual contact with someone under his counseling care.
That's only in 13 States. Where I am in Ohio it is not. So what this man did now if it's a minor, it's against the law. But it's an 18, 19 year old adult woman who's in crisis and that pastor crosses his boundaries by having some kind of sexual contact with her he's not breaking any laws. He can do that.
If he were a doctor or a therapist, he's breaking the law and he loses his license. So now I will say the Presbyterian church has a very, very strict policy on clergy sexual abuse. They're one of the denominations that has taken this issue and really have made policies in place that removal is almost immediate when there's been an accurate account [00:16:00] of sexual abuse. The independent churches, such as Baptist or in the church that I grew up in Church of Christ that is, a little bit more difficult because they act independently.
So each church, an elder board can decide whether to keep him, whether to make it known to the congregation or not. And that becomes an issue. That's why in my church, it was so easy for them to say to this man, Oh, you made a mistake. We're going to forgive you. We're going to give you a big party and we're going to send you on your way is what, just what they did.
Alexis Newlin: [00:16:29] Wow. I'm just, as I'm listening to your story, I couldn't imagine being your age and watching this, knowing that he pretty much changed your life from age 16, up until like 20-21. And he's getting celebrated where your life has been devastated by this.
Sandi Phillips Kirkham: [00:16:49] I was in a place at that point where I had no self-esteem. I had been under this man's thumb for five years. He had controlled every aspect of my life. He was violent toward me. So at that point, I was just so [00:17:00] devastated and almost numb feelings of, I don't even know what I was going to do. But, I did expect that I would get the same treatment to at least be forgiven that I should have been forgiven because it wasn't my fault.
But the church then turned on me. Now, I will say, not only did I confront my abuser 27 years later, but I also went back to the church where this happened. Now none of the elders are there now we're at the time then. But they were willing to meet me because I thought it was important that the truth be told because the narrative was told by my abuser. I don't know. He could've said, Oh, she came onto me or whatever.
Alexis Newlin: [00:17:36] Exactly.
Sandi Phillips Kirkham: [00:17:37] So for me, it was important to address the church as well. And so they were very gracious and letting me come back and tell my story and they welcomed me back into the church.
Alexis Newlin: [00:17:49] Wow. , I'm just blown away.
Sandi Phillips Kirkham: [00:17:51] Cause there's a lot to the story I tell so much. I wrote the book because I wanted to help victims, but I wanted to help others who don't quite [00:18:00] understand the issue of clergy abuse or they're still in the mindset that this is something that doesn't happen or why didn't you. They know, why did she wait so long if it truly did happen?
So I wanted to educate people and then hopefully pastors and clergy would read the book so that they can get a better understanding of how it happens. Because even if they won't be guilty of it, they may have an assistant pastor who might be. And so they need to see the signs and they need to be aware of, the idea of grooming manipulation and all the tools that these men use to trap their victims.
So I tell people first, the first part of the book is difficult to read.
Alexis Newlin: [00:18:36] That was hard. I was just wanting to grab him and shake. And then when I found out when they told you to leave, I'm like, what? Did they ask you for your story at all during any of this?
Sandi Phillips Kirkham: [00:18:46] No, I was never asked. , I was actually told not to tell my parents, which I eventually did, but I was told where to sit in church. He gave this very very vague confession didn't even really wasn't even a confession because most people still didn't know what he was talking about. [00:19:00] But no, I was never called in to talk about it.
No one seemed to care about , how this was affecting me. It was all about trying to protect him and his family and move him to the next church. And so I was told where to sit in church. I was told, what I should say. If somebody says something to me, I was really under the control of the elders and this pastor. So going back, I tell people the first part of the book is really hard to read because I talk about the abuse.
But the second part of the book, I think, is this feeling of you go girl, you know.
Alexis Newlin: [00:19:29] It is!
Sandi Phillips Kirkham: [00:19:30] You have found your voice and you're going to help others with it. So I think the second part of the book is the hope and healing part. , I've had victims say to me, I don't think I could read it. And I always tell them, well skip part one. You don't need any of the details, but I think part two and three would be very helpful. I couldn't tell the story without telling the first part of that book, but I want it to be a book of hope and healing as well.
Alexis Newlin: [00:19:52] And definitely that second half like you said, that you go girl!' feeling definitely comes, especially when you're telling your husband. What was that like, if you'd want to tell the [00:20:00] listeners about that?
Sandi Phillips Kirkham: [00:20:01] I hadn't told him for 27 years, so I kept this secret, which I felt guilty about. The first person I told was my best friend, and then I told two more friends.
It would be probably another three or four months before I was going to tell my husband. And it wasn't that I didn't think he would be nothing but supportive and care for me. But again, I had that fear instilled in me. What if he does judge me? What if he wonders why I didn't tell him for 27 years?
What if he says, okay, well you were 21. Why didn't you just get out at 21? Not that I thought he would do those things. But again, I was so gripped with fear and I think that's why victims are so afraid to speak because they fear the consequences when they don't need to, but they do. It's understandable.
So I called him at his office and I just said, I need to tell you something. And it took me 20 minutes. I sobbed for 20 minutes before I could get the words out: I was sexually abused by my youth pastor. And I will tell you his face just dropped. I could see the pain in his.face. And that moment I [00:21:00] knew, he loved me and he wasn't going to judge me.
He was been very supportive. He went with me when I confronted my abuser. I couldn't have done it without him. So yes, he's been great through all of this. It's been a little hard on him because I think anytime you love someone and they've gone through pain, you suffer with them.
But yeah, it. It took me a while to tell him, but I did.
Alexis Newlin: [00:21:22] Yeah. And he's an attorney, so that's really helpful to have that background.
Sandi Phillips Kirkham: [00:21:26] Well, yeah, I did because he's got a background of, okay, let's logically look at this.Let's look at the facts kind of. He was the logical end of it. As much as I know he was hurting. He kept me on track.
When I would ask a question, he would answer it in a way that was like, okay, I really want to tell her, thisas her husband but this is how I think she should, what she should do. , I mean, he was worried about me confronting my abuser. He worried how that would affect me if that would make it worse.
But it didn't. So I was glad that I was able to do that. Yeah.
Alexis Newlin: [00:21:54] So what was it like getting up to that meeting and sitting down, seeing him after 27 years, what was going through your mind? How [00:22:00] are you feeling?
Sandi Phillips Kirkham: [00:22:01] Well, , I was nervous of course I was absolutely scared to death in part, because I thought, am I going to get in that room? And I'm going to be 16 all over again. And he's going to be able to manipulate me? Is he going to make me feel like I'm victimizing him and that I'm ruining his careerand his life now after 27 years. So I was really afraid that I wouldn't be strong enough. And I also had Googled him prior. So I had an idea of what he looked like.
So I didn't have that moment of walking in and seeing this man who was 27 years older. So a lot of about him, I had learned on through the Googling of his name, but once I got into the room, I just felt a calm. I felt God was with me to say, yes, you need to expose these wolves. It talks about it , go to the one who's offended you.
So I felt confident that what I was doing was the right thing. I had decided that I would memorize everything I was going to say to him because I didn't want to forget something. I didn't want to get rattled. So I pretty much said everything I wanted to [00:23:00] say to him. He gave excuses. Said he , had an alcoholic father, said he had been in therapy.
Was a sexual addict. Which, whether you believe that's an addiction or not. It's not appropriate for a man who's had sexual addictions to be a pastor, regardless . So I was glad that I did confront him. I was disappointed in his reaction. I don't feel like he really understood what he had really done to me and how it had impacted my life.
And I'm sorry for that, but , I guess when I tell victims, you can't expect them after if they didn't get it, when they were abusing you, they're not going to get it five, 10, 15, 20 years later either.
Alexis Newlin: [00:23:38] Yeah. So you confront him and you talked to his supervisors as well. How did they take your story?
Sandi Phillips Kirkham: [00:23:45] . First, I went to his immediate boss and his response was this man has changed and he's a different person and we don't think what happened 27 years ago matters. Now I, again, I wasn't the only [00:24:00] one in my abuser's words, there've been many, many, many over the years.
not all teenagers, but a lot of women in the church. He'd also been sued at one point by a woman's husband. So he had a Very good history of this behavior. But this pastor, his leader said, you know, he's done so much good for the church. We've got this new building because of him.
We have people coming to the church because of him. And again, I got that. Yes, that's exactly what he does. He's very charismatic and he brings in money and he brings in people, but that should not have any bearing on this man's ability to be a pastor within a church. So he basically said I don't think this has any bearing and I'm not going to do anything about it.
So then I went to his denominational leaders, which was an office in Indianapolis. And they too kind of said the same thing. And then they said, , we don't have any authority because each church is allowed to hire and fire their own ministers. [00:25:00] So we can't tell this church that they have to let this man go.
So I was stonewalled. So I talked to the president of the denomination and kind of got the same response. At one point, he went to another church. And so I sent a letter to them, which is in the book and just saying to them , you need to know this man's history. And again, I got back a letter that said I was evil, that I was only trying to hurt this man, and I should stay out of their lives.
So. , you have to be pretty strong when you start down this path of trying to remove men who have been accused of, and while his , wasn't just an accusation. He obviously was caught, but it's not an easy path to go down because you're going to meet resistance. Unfortunately, very sadly, which it
Alexis Newlin: [00:25:49] It just blows my mind.
When you think, if someone said this has happened to me, this person may be a poor character and judgment. Remove him for the safety of the flock. You would think. Yeah, it's a no brainer, no brainer. Get [00:26:00] him out of here, you know, and like, yes, there's forgiveness and God forgives. But. You can't put people in danger.
Sandi Phillips Kirkham: [00:26:06] What I have said, look, you know, yes, these men, if repentant and I don't believe my abuser has shown that he's repentant.
I think it's in the book of acts. It talks about forgiveness has given when acts of repentance have been demonstrated. So it's, not enough to say, you're sorry. You have to demonstrate that. You're sorry. How do you demonstrate that you really are sorry for what you did. , I say that forgiveness can be forgiven if you're truly repentant, but that doesn't mean you get your job back. You can be forgiven and have another position someplace else outside the world. You don't have to be forgiven and get your job back. That's not an equal. We forgive him. He gets his job back. And again like a therapist or a doctor, they lose their licenses.
They absolutely. A boundary. They know it ahead of time. You cannot do that. You cannot take advantage of someone who's in a vulnerable position. Who's come to you [00:27:00] with a crisis in their life. And then you use that crisis to take advantage of them. And that's exactly, you know, in my case, I was 16. My parents were divorced. didn't see my dad much. And so when this pastor came along, he was wonderful to me. He acted like he cared about me. He tapped into my vulnerability for the sole purpose of using me sexually. And that should not be an acceptable.
Alexis Newlin: [00:27:22] No, absolutely not.
Sandi Phillips Kirkham: [00:27:27] I mean, I know churches want to use the scripture. We should. All, we've all sinned. We've all fallen short of the glory of God forgiveness. Judge, not, you be judge, but there's also discernment. That's the moral side of it. But the professional side of it is he broke the ethics of this profession. So morally, yes, you can talk about scripture and morally, you can talk about forgiving him, but that's one side.
The other side is he got a paycheck. He should no longer get a paycheck because he broke those boundaries of his profession.
Alexis Newlin: [00:27:56] Yes, absolutely. All right. So let's get into the path of where [00:28:00] you started becoming an advocate for others through your own pain.
Sandi Phillips Kirkham: [00:28:04] Well, that kind of happened by accident to some extent. I , found a website called the hope of survivors and they help mostly women, mostly adult women.
Who've been sexually abused by a spiritual leader in the church. So I contacted them and their website. If anyone wants to go to it is just full of information and help that you can get if you want it. And so I started going on their website and then I contacted them. And after hearing my story, she asked me what I'd be willing to volunteer for them.
So I have spoken at their conferences. I've done some victim counseling. My advocacy began with the hope of survivors. And then I spoke to Cincinnati Christian university, which trains men to become pastors and ministers. I spoke in their ethics class and it just kind of snowballed to that point where I was helping other victims.
Then I had a website and I started a Facebook page and just the number of victims that would contact me. First of all, it break my heart. But I also knew that [00:29:00] how much of a help it would have been to me when this was happening to me and being done to me. That I could have had someone saying to me, here's what happened to me too.
And so that's why I share my story and then it's not easy. I mean, I didn't want people to misunderstand this path didn't just happen overnight. It took time and it took a lot of heartache and pain and tears for me to get through to the other side. And I did that, knowing that God was on my side, that I was doing the right thing and that by helping other victims, I was maybe.
Helping them so that their pain wouldn't last 27 years, that they could start their healing process much sooner than I started mine. , one of the things I want to tell victims because I, when I talked to them, the first thing they need to understand, and even if you're an adult woman, because again, if you're in a crisis situation, you're not going to think you're going to do some things that you wouldn't do under normal circumstances.
And you've got someone who's in power and someone you think you can trust. So what I say to victims [00:30:00] is this, it's not your fault. What happened to you was not your fault and whatever you think you could have done or should have done. You did what you could with the coping skills you had at the time and who you were at the time.
It's okay to think what made me vulnerable, what made me susceptible to this predator, but you were. The prey and he was a predator and he trapped you. So first of all, it's not your fault thing. I like to tell them is educate yourself, read all you can about clergy, sexual abuse, or even just sexual abuse.
So educate yourself because once you understand the techniques that these men use you then can be able to get out from under it because you now understand what was done to you. So read all you can and then talk about it. Find someone you can talk about it to that's so important because you can't keep it in it, it will only eat away at you if you keep it in.
Alexis Newlin: [00:30:53] So going through all this and it affecting your faith, how did you start to get back to God? And we're building that relationship.
[00:31:00] Sandi Phillips Kirkham: [00:30:59] Once I could see that the abuse was not related to God in any way, and that this was a man that pretended to be a man of God that started it. Then I started to just let myself, let God kind of be around me.
I still was having difficulty with prayer but I would think, okay, it's okay if I think about God, I don't have to pray to him and I don't have to go to church, but , I'm going to let him surround me a little bit. Then I started going back to church more often. I made myself go and I remember one Sunday morning, I got out of the car and I just, I just froze because I had this anxiety attack " and I just said," all right, God, if you want me back in this church, you're going to have to put this foot forward because I don't want to go in there". And I had this calm and it was like, that's all I needed. So it was a slow process. I just did it little by little, I didn't just say, okay, I'm going to let God back in my life.
I'm going to start reading the Bible again. I'm going to pray all the time. I just bit by bit allowed God back into my life. And that brings me to a point that I want those who. I have not been sexually [00:32:00] abused by someone or by clergy in the church. When you go to help someone who has been sexually abused in the church, keep in mind that things that you find comforting, like prayer and Bible reading and going to church are not comforting to someone who's been abused in the church.
So be aware of that and be sensitive. So instead of saying to a victim of clergy abuse, I'll pray for you. You might want to just rephrase it and say, would it be all right if I pray for you because that tells that person, okay. She understands that prayer can be difficult for me. And don't be surprised if they say no, I'd rather you not because give them time.
It takes time to heal. It takes time to move forward. So don't feel like you need to pressure them into going to church or that, you know, I had someone say to me, well, say Sandi if God moved, it's only because you did. God never moved away from you. Well, that's probably true, but it's not helpful. It's not helpful.
So as Christians we want to, [00:33:00] share our faith and we want to do the things that have been helpful to us. But again, as a person who's been abused by clergy, it may not be as helpful.
Alexis Newlin: [00:33:08] And so Sandy, what are some tips you can give to someone who thinks right now that they may be experiencing what you experienced? What are some things that they can do to get help to get out.
Sandi Phillips Kirkham: [00:33:17] Of the abusive relationship now?
Alexis Newlin: [00:33:19] Yeah if they're suspecting, I'm listening to Sandy story and yes, this is happening to me right now with my pastor or my clergy member. What can I do do to get out of this? How can I get help?
Sandi Phillips Kirkham: [00:33:29] Well, , I wouldn't go to the church leaders and I know that sounds counterintuitive, but you don't know what their response will be. I would find someone you can trust to tell first. And then I probably then would, I would go to the abuser to some extent to say, , This isn't right what you're doing. Express to them, that you kind of figured out this isn't right. Now they're going to try to manipulate you back. They're going to say, Oh yes, this is God's will. I mean, my abuser would say it's God's will, we're married in God's eyes. This is you're helping the ministry, but foremost, you need [00:34:00] to tell someone, and if there's any doubt, you find someone else and tell them as well if it's possible to. Get him on tape, which some victims have done, or you have someone standing outside the room while you confront him. , that the more you can gather or if you suspect there might be someone else. Cause usually it's more than one person at a time. That's probably, but you know, it's hard for victims when they're in the abusive relationship to do that, but tell someone that's that's the only thing you can do is at that point is to tell someone.
Alexis Newlin: [00:34:29] Okay. , Sandy. So what are some of your goals for I know this year has been kind of crazy some of your goals for this year. Like where do you want to take your victim advocacy, even your ministry. It is a ministry what you're doing.
Sandi Phillips Kirkham: [00:34:40] It is a ministry. You know, I have to tell you one of the saddest things for me over the 27 years that I was not involved in church was I knew that when I got to heaven, I would never hear the words well done my good and faithful servant. And I now know that I can say those words because this is a ministry. I know it's what God wants me to do and it's only because [00:35:00] of God that I can do this. So what I look for in 2021, I love saying 20 21, I'm sick of 2020, but I do hope that my book will help others.
And , people will go to my website where there's lots of information that they can help them. I will continue to help victims. I'm always available for speaking engagements, whatever I can do, you know, I would love to go to churches and say, Get a congregation of your members together and I will talk about my story. I'm not an angry person. This is not about pastor bashing. This is about educating and prevention and helping victims. That's what this is about. I forgave my abuser a long time ago. Wasn't easy, but I forgave him because I understood that if I didn't do that, he was always going to be a part of my life.
For 27 years, I walked around with guilt and shame. After I confronted him, I walked around with anger and disappointment. So he was still controlling me and it, was my way of unburdening [00:36:00] myself from him. I had to unburden myself and I could only do that by to say, I'm going to let it go and let God deal with him.
And I could move forward and help others. And if I didn't let go of it, I wasn't going to be able to help anyone else..
Alexis Newlin: [00:36:12] . So Sandy, when did you decide that you were brave?
Sandi Phillips Kirkham: [00:36:15] Probably about six or seven months after I confronted him because I was an emotional mess for awhile. I mean, I think the deal with a lot of garbage that he had put inside my mind, , and I was always nervous the first few times I spoke, but there was a point that I came when I realized, you know what, this took a lot of courage to do this.
I didn't know that I had that courage, but for 27 years, I didn't have it. But then I realized at one point, you know what, , it takes some courage to speak up and go forward. But because I knew it was the right thing to do. And because I knew God wanted me to do this, it made it easier to find that courage.
So that's probably how I found that courage. It was knowing that this was the right thing to do and the God was behind me.
Alexis Newlin: [00:36:57] All right. Thank you so much, Sandy. I'm going to put [00:37:00] all your contact info in the show notes. People can find you and get your book. It's amazing. You guys, I, you, you can't put it down.
And before we go, what is the name of your book?
Sandi Phillips Kirkham: [00:37:10] It's called, let me pray upon you. P R E Y. That's the name of the book? And it took me about two years to write. It was difficult to write at times, but I'm thankful I've written it. I've had many comments from victims. Who've said it's been a help to them.
So. It's made it worth it.
Alexis Newlin: [00:37:25] Yeah. It's a wonderful book and I'm so glad you wrote it. And thank you so much for being on the show today.
Sandi Phillips Kirkham: [00:37:30] You're a great host and I appreciate your time.
Alexis Newlin: [00:37:32] Guys, thanks so much for tuning into today's interview. Although, this was a very hard thing to listen to what stuck out the most to me from her interview was this statement from Sandy for 27 years, I walked around with guilt and shame. After I confronted him, I walked around with anger and disappointment, so he was still controlling me. . I hadn't burdened myself and I could only do [00:38:00] that by to say, I'm going to let it go and let God deal with him. And I could move forward and help others. And if I didn't let go of it, I wasn't going to be able to help anyone else. And that's just such a powerful statement.
Of. Letting go and letting God take control of the difficult things in our life, knowing that he will take care of us. Sandy. I'm so thankful that you shared the story with our podcast listeners. I'm so grateful for it. . If you're instead of picking per book or learning about her victim advocacy program.
I'll put all the links in the show notes. All right. Here are my three asks. Ask number one is ratings. I love ratings. They helped me understand what I'm doing. Well, what I need to work on. I appreciate them. And it also helps people find the podcast. So that's my first ask. And for those of you who have left ratings, thank you so much.
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My next guest was such a fun one and he has another powerful story to bring you guys. His name is Rashaun Copeland. He talks about a time. Where he was basically facing life and death and how god met him there so that episode is next week which will be april which has been madness. All right. thank you guys for tuning in and i will see you next time. Bye